In which medieval Europeans know honey is just the thing to treat an arrow stuck in your face.
A great literary figure, almost Aristotelian in his classification of the natural world, once said, “The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey…And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it.” Of course, since Winnie-the-Pooh isn’t really a noted Aristotelian philosopher, and in fact is a bear of very little brain, it’s possible he is unaware that honey serves another delightful purpose: preventing infection when you’re shot in the face with an arrow.
Honey Honey, How You Thrill Me, A-ha
Honey has long been valued for its ability to kill bacteria and help with the treatment of wounds. In a study of honey’s medicinal property and antibacterial activity Manisha Deb Mandal and Shyamapada Mandal note,
The healing property of honey is due to the fact that it offers antibacterial activity, maintains a moist wound condition, and its high viscosity helps to provide a protective barrier to prevent infection. Its immunomodulatory property is relevant to wound repair too. The antimicrobial activity in most honeys is due to the enzymatic production of hydrogen peroxide. However, another kind of honey, called non-peroxide honey (viz., manuka honey), displays significant antibacterial effects even when the hydrogen peroxide activity is blocked. Its mechanism may be related to the low pH level of honey and its high sugar content (high osmolarity) that is enough to hinder the growth of microbes.
Honey’s stickiness has also made it a valuable tool for closing wounds and preventing them from drying out.
Honey Honey, Nearly Kill Me, A-ha
ABBA might have known the thrilling and deadly properties of honey (culminating in their medical proclamation, “And honey, to say the least, you’re a doggone beast”), but they’re apparently unaware that honey was an essential provision for the up-to-date medieval English army. Ilana Krug theorizes that English armies stored honey in castles to clean wounds and treat such disorders as vertigo, gout and tumours (it was also used as a treatment for ulcers).
The availability of medical honey was essential for treating Prince Henry of England (later King Henry V) when the 16 year-old was hit in the face with an arrow during the 1403 Battle of Shrewsbury—the arrow pierced his right cheek and embedded itself in bone. John Bradmore, the doctor who treated Henry, created probes infused with rose honey to reach the arrowhead (and kill any bacteria in the process) and, in the weeks after the surgery, treated the wound with a paste of honey, flour and flax. The process left Henry with a notable scar on the right side of his face, meaning in reality he looked little like Kenneth Branagh or Timothée Chalamet.
I’m Gonna Stick to You, Boy
Despite plummeting over 100 feet down through branches into a gorse-bush, being repeatedly stung by bees, stuck in the ground and caught in a flood, Winnie-the-Pooh never needed honey as an unguent (which he would probably have eaten anyway)…but then he never suffered a wound like Prince Henry’s: “Streaming soon on Disney+, Winnie the Pooh and the Arrow in the Face!”
Image: Perpignan, Pyrénées-Orientales, France – Selling honey at the medieval market (Source).